Denny Matthews' Tales from the Royals Dugoutby Denny Matthews, Matt Fulks
Amos Otis, Frank White, George Brett, Hal McRae, Dan Quisenberry, Bret Saberhagen, Paul Splittorff. One mention of any of those names can bring about visions of great baseball, determination, hard-nosed, and winning. However, one vision out-weighs all others: the boys in blue & the Kansas City Royals. The Kansas City Royals, an expansion club in the
Amos Otis, Frank White, George Brett, Hal McRae, Dan Quisenberry, Bret Saberhagen, Paul Splittorff. One mention of any of those names can bring about visions of great baseball, determination, hard-nosed, and winning. However, one vision out-weighs all others: the boys in blue & the Kansas City Royals. The Kansas City Royals, an expansion club in the American League in 1969, struggled during their early existence. It didn't take long, however, before the Royals established themselves as one of the most successful franchises in baseball. That success culminated with the winning of the 1985 World Series.Since 1969, the Royals have developed great players that have had fun. Along the way, they also have developed a winning tradition. Although the Royals have received the "small-market" tag in recent years, the organization still boasts a proud heritage. In Denny Matthews' Tales from the Royals Dugout, longtime Royals radio broadcaster Denny Matthews relives the club's great moments and pro
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In the Beginning
In 1968, after years of losing baseball and being a victim of Charlie Finley's "ingenuity" and desire to leave the Midwest, the Kansas City A's moved to Oakland. There was no longer any major league baseball in Kansas City.
Ewing Kauffman may have been one of the least obvious people to bring baseball back to Kansas City. He had developed a name for himself in pharmaceuticals and had become a billionaire through hard work. He was just a casual baseball fan, but he had the wherewithal to buy the expansion team.
I think it's safe to say that once he was pushed a little bit, he realized that he should buy the team for the city.
There were many businessmen, most of them friends of Ewing's in Kansas City, many of whom were very involved with the A's, who prodded Ewing to buy the team. Guys like Earl Smith, Les Milgram, Ernie Mehl, Charles Hughes and Charlie Truitt really got the thing rolling. And then Ewing's wife, Muriel, put him over the edge. Muriel was the last one to kick him in the seat of the pants and say "Let's do it." Major League Baseball awarded them, and the city, the team.
Draft Day, 1968
One of the most exciting times for the franchise in the early days was drafting the team, or at least potential players for the team. I was not here yet, but my future broadcasting mentor, Buddy Blattner, who had played in the major leagues before going into broadcasting, was here and was in "the" room on draft day.
"Cedric Tallis, the general manager, farm director Lou Gorman, and Joe Gordon, the manager, were involved in the draft, and they allowed me to sit in as well. So much homework went into it, and it was done in a systematic way. The Royals drafted according to the best available talent, not by position, and Seattle, the other expansion team, drafted by position. Seattle was hurt by that system, and the Royals came out in fine fashion with their way, actually becoming a team that was competitive right from the very go. The Royals did not say, 'We now have a second baseman, so now we need a shortstop.' They went after the best available. Then where they had ample supply, Cedric was able to trade and get a position player. It was thrilling to be a part of that draft."
This Is an Expansion Team?
Opening day, 1969, is one game I will remember always. The Royals, led by manager Joe Gordon, faced the Minnesota Twins, a team managed by a young and fiery Billy Martin, who was making his managerial debut. Gordon was a veteran baseball man who, ironically, had managed the Kansas City Athletics in 1960 for half of the season, in that same Municipal Stadium.
Gordon was excited about the opportunity to manage the first-year Royals. He had his first lineup almost complete after the final exhibition game in Kansas City against the St. Louis Cardinals. Ed Kirkpatrick and rookie Lou Piniella had been hitting the ball well, so they started in left field and center field, respectively, while Bob Oliver started in right. Around the infield were Chuck Harrison, Jerry Adair, Jack Hernandez and Joe Foy. Ellie Rodriguez was behind the plate. Not a bad opening-day lineup for an expansion team.
Wally Bunker was the starting pitcher on opening day in 1969. He threw the first pitch to Ted Uhlaender of the Minnesota Twins. Wally had some good years with the Baltimore Orioles before the Royals drafted him in the expansion draft. He gave us three solid years. Wally was a very quiet, soft-spoken guy, but fun to be around.
Time Out for Trivia
Most people assume that the Royals' first series with the Twins was their first in front of the home crowd at Municipal Stadium. That's true if you add first regular-season series. The Royals actually played two games prior to the opener with the Twins. The St. Louis Cardinals came into Kansas City and played exhibition games on Saturday and Sunday, before opening day.
God Must Be a Royal
Opening day, 1969, truly was amazing. Municipal Stadium probably hadn't looked that good since its debut in the 1920s. On opening day in 1969, besides the bunting that was draped over the wall along the first and third base sides, flags representing each of the major leagues' teams hung from the roof. It appeared as though baseball belonged in Kansas City. And it belonged to the Royals.
As longtime Kansas City Star sports editor Joe McGuff wrote in his "Sporting Comment" column on April 9, the day after the opener, "A gusty wind blew out of the south, popping the pennants that ring the roof of the stadium. One of the pennants had been partly blown down and hung in a position approaching half-mast. By the strangest sort of coincidence it was a green and gold pennant bearing the name 'Athletics.'"
A Prophetic Beginning? Nope, Just Don Denkinger
One of the umpires for that opening day game was a guy by the name of Don Denkinger. Don Denkinger...why does that name sound so familiar? A foreshadowing? Does the sixth game of the 1985 World Series and something about a possible blown call at first base jar any mental cobwebs? Prophetic beginnings for the franchise?
Time Out for Trivia Part 2
There were three players who played for both the Kansas City A's and the Royals. Can you name them? (Hint: All three were pitchers.)
Moe Drabowsky, Dave Wickersham and Aurelio Monteagudo each played at the major league level for both clubs.
You'll Always Remember Your First One
People often ask me about my most memorable game with the Royals. Without a doubt, it was the first one. I have more images of that game in my head than any other game that I've broadcast since opening day, Tuesday, April 8, 1969. Against the Minnesota Twins, managed by Billy Martin. How could I not say that game was my most memorable? It was my first big-league game. And, simply because of some luck, I was the first broadcaster to say "Royals win." I owe that largely to Joe Keough.
Keough was the club's leading hitter in spring training that year with a .350 average. In the 12th inning, nearly three and a half hours after the first pitch, Keough came to the plate and ripped the first pitch from Minnesota's Dick Woodson over the head of Tony Oliva in right field. I still can picture that ball sailing over Oliva's head. There was no way he was going to get to it. The Royals won, 4-3.
Dave Wickersham, who still lives in the Kansas City area, pitched five scoreless innings in relief. Moe Drabowsky got the win for Kansas City. Lou Piniella, the Royals' starting center fielder that day, was four for five as the leadoff hitter. Municipal had a crowd of 17,683 for that first game, which started at 2:32 and ended at 5:50.
"Outside of my first year in the majors, my greatest thrill was making the Royals team. It was a fresh attitude. I'm so thankful that I got to make that team. As it turned out, I pitched in the Royals' first intrasquad game, first exhibition game and on opening day. I wanted to win that one so badly. They pinch hit for me in the bottom of the 10th, Moe pitched the 11th and we won in the bottom of the 11th. Moe and I played together for a number of years, so for him to get the first win was fine. I was just happy to be there."
Joe Keough had a good offensive year for us in 1969, but the next season, I believe, he broke his ankle sliding into home plate and never really was quite the same. But for that one day in April of 1969, he helped give me and new Royals fans everywhere a reason to cheer...and say for the first time, "Royals win!"
As If a Dozen Wasn't Enough
What could possibly top a 12-inning thrilling win for the new home team? A 17-inning affair the next night. Bill Butler started that game for the Royals. Butler was a left-handed pitcher with good potential. However, he never got over the hump. He had good stuff, but control problems kept his potential from materializing.
The game remained tied for the second longest in Royals history (the Royals have been involved in two 18-inning games in their history). The Royals eventually won 4-3.
Give and Take
The first loss in the club's history, in 1969, came at the hands of the Oakland A's, 5-0. Try this on for size, though. Mike Fiore, who wasn't a power hitter by any stretch, hit the first home run in Royals history-against the Oakland A's.
Dick Drago pitched the Royals' first complete game. It also happened to be Drago's first major-league start. It came during a 3-2 win in Anaheim on May 2, 1969, in the nightcap of a doubleheader. The win also gave the club its first doubleheader sweep.
Our first real bona fide power guy was Bob Oliver, a right-handed batter who could play first or fill in at third or the outfield. He led all right-handed hitters in home runs for the Royals in his first year.
And then, on May 4, 1969, he had hits in six consecutive at-bats in a 15-1 Royals win over California. He became only the 37th player in major-league history to achieve that feat. He had four singles, a double and a home run. He had a single in his final at-bat the day before that as well, so he had a string of seven consecutive hits. In that four-game series against the Angels, Bob was 11 for 16.
Oliver also hit the Royals' first grand slam home run. He did it on July 4, 1969, off Seattle's Jim Bouton, in the first game of a doubleheader in Kansas City. At Municipal Stadium, groundskeeper George Toma had a little shed beyond the fence in left center. That homer went over the shed. It was a monster blast.
Building Strength up the Middle
Ask any longtime baseball person a key to winning, and sooner than later you'll hear about how it's important to build strength up the middle. That is, you want a solid catcher, second baseman, shortstop, center fielder and, of course, pitcher.
Within the span of one year, Cedric Tallis made three deals with National League teams that built the strength up the middle for Kansas City and helped solidify the team's future.
On December 3, 1969, Tallis traded Joe Foy to the Mets for Bob Johnson, a pitcher, and Amos Otis, a center fielder. Bob had a great year in 1970, and it was obvious after Amos's first year with the Royals that he was going to be a star.
Then in the middle of the 1970 season, Cookie Rojas came to the Royals from the Cardinals for an outfielder named Fred Rico (no, he never did anything in the big leagues).
Almost a year to the day after the initial deal with the Mets, on December 2, 1970, Cedric took Johnson, who had had a good season-could throw hard and was goofy as hell-and sent him to the Pirates for Jerry May, a catcher, Bruce Dal Canton, a pitcher, and Fred Patek, a shortstop.
So in those three deals, Cedric got a catcher, a pitcher, a second baseman, a shortstop, and a center fielder. Boom, strength up the middle right away. That was a building block for many years.
The Royals Baseball Academy
Ewing Kauffman was an innovator and a smart businessman. With those qualities in mind, Ewing wanted to find a way to improve on his investment.
One of the unique plans that Ewing devised to develop the franchise was the Royals Baseball Academy. Basically, his thought was to take players who had not been drafted-and who were good athletes-train them through intense work, and mold them into Royals baseball players.
He felt that the organization could take great athletes and turn them into productive major leaguers. So in August 1970, he started the Royals Baseball Academy in Sarasota, Florida, with longtime baseball man Syd Thrift as the academy's director.
"The academy was just starting to blossom during my fourth year in the minor leagues. Syd, who had signed me, brought a few of us minor league guys down to the academy to participate and enhance some of the academy players. During three winters I pitched and got my feet wet with the academy. As time went on, they began drafting players and putting them in the academy. I think people laughed at Mr. Kauffman and the organization for this kind of experiment. I think it has some merit. I still think to this day, if you went back to basics, you could get some great players. But it was a very costly venture back then. It definitely had an outstanding facility. I think Baltimore still uses it as a minor league facility."
-Dick Balderson, who, after spending a few seasons in the Royals' minor leagues as a player, became John Schuerholz's assistant. Dick now works with Schuerholz and the Atlanta Braves.
Forming the academy was an example of the way Mr. K's mind worked. He was very competitive, always looking for something different, looking for an edge. Some of the other baseball minds in the organization thought that the Baseball Academy had some merit and decided to give it a shot. Even if people didn't like the idea, they went with it because it was something that Mr. K wanted to try.
"Ewing invited me and my wife to spend some time with him on his yacht to pick my brain about the academy. We talked about the negative and positive factors. I said, 'I know you have the financial means to do this, and you are going to get 90 percent of the people who say it can't be done. You want it to happen; why don't you do it? You might be unhappy the rest of your life if you don't do it. If you can afford the failure, for goodness sakes do it.' Several people around the organization told him to try it, and he did. Things just didn't work out."
The academy was designed as a two-year program (including college), so a high school diploma was a must for a hopeful. During the morning, at Ewing's insistence, each player was expected to attend school at Manatee Junior College. He insisted that they take some speaking courses and some personal finance courses. He wanted them to be able to mingle in society, to talk to the press and to be able to handle their money. So the players went to college in the mornings and studied baseball for the remainder of the day.
"In April 1974, the Royals Baseball Academy closed. But as it turned out, it was too bad that the experiment ended. The Royals got their middle infield of the late 1970s and into the 80s out of the academy: Frank White (the academy's first and best "graduate") and U.L. Washington.
Bob "Hawk" Taylor hit a pinch-hit home run in Detroit during our first year that I always will remember. The Tigers, in 1969, were a very good team. The Royals, obviously, were just trying to be competitive. Hawk Taylor, who grew up in Metropolis, Illinois, could catch, play the outfield and even a play little first base. But he was a terrific pinch hitter.
"Heading into the top of the ninth inning, on May 6, 1969, Detroit's Denny McLain was cruising with a 6-2 lead. The Royals put a rally together and chased McLain out of the game. Finally, with two on and two out, Hawk Taylor went to the plate to pinch hit for the Royals with the Tigers leading 6-4. Dick Radatz was now pitching for Detroit.
"Hawk got hold of a pitch and drove it onto the roof in left center, approximately 440 feet. It was a blast. The Royals held on for a 7-6 win. That win put the Royals at 14-11 on the season.
"After Hawk hit the homer, Ewing and Muriel Kauffman, who hardly ever were seen at a Royals road game, were on the roof of the dugout, dancing and cheering. Mr. K was not flamboyant, so to see that enthusiasm in an amazing emotional win was special.
"On the Road Again
Early in my career, it was thrilling to travel around the country with a major league team. It was great to see the sights and the different ballparks. Road trips in those early years also produced some hilarious memories for me.
"For instance, when the team went to Minneapolis, it stayed in the Leamington Hotel, which was one of the worst places we stayed in those early years. It wasn't a well run place. There would be a basket of fruit in your room, but the fruit would be two weeks old.
"We arrived there late on a Sunday night from somewhere, and everyone was extremely tired. Guys just wanted to get to their rooms and crash. OK, here come the bags. Now we can get upstairs and get to sleep. The bags came off the luggage truck and into the lobby, where there was only one bellman on duty. This guy had to be in his mid 80s, with two or three teeth and a crummy-looking outfit. He was getting the bags together, but moved at the speed of a glacier.
"One of players asked, "How long before I get my bags to my room?"
"Another one shouted a reply: "Wednesday!"
"Hey Kids, Big Ben, Parliament...
When we played in Washington D.C. against the Senators, we stayed at the Shoreham Hotel, which was about a 30-minute ride from the ballpark. I always have a hard time with direction in D.C. because everything is in a circle around a hub. I guess I'm not the only one with trouble.
"We played on a Saturday afternoon, and after the game we were on the bus headed back to the hotel. We pulled up to an intersection, and I noticed a barber shop named Shorty's on the corner. About 10 minutes later, we pulled up to an intersection, and there was another barbershop named Shorty's. It looked similar to the first, but no big deal. Then it happened a third time. Radio producer-engineer Ed Shepherd said, "Man, this Shorty must be doing pretty well, because he has a chain of barbershops all over town."
"Actually, no, he didn't. We had been going in circles. The bus driver was lost.
"The Moonlighting Bus Driver
We arrived at Chicago's Midway Airport real late one night after playing in Texas. We had lost two out of three to the Rangers. So nobody was in a good mood, plus everyone was tired. Midway to downtown was about a 20-minute drive.
"The bus driver, who was black, fancied himself as an entertainer. He got on the bus microphone and said something about how it was a nice night out, and then he told a joke. A bad joke. The groans gave that away.
"Evidently, the bus driver felt that one went so well that he launched into another joke. It wasn't very good, either. Now the guys are getting restless and basically telling the guy to stop and just drive. John Mayberry, from his seat in the back, said, "C'mon, get off the brother. Let him do his thing!"
"The driver told another bad joke. Somebody from the middle of the bus fired another insult. Big John again said, "C'mon, get off the brother." This cycle went on a few more times. It wasn't getting any better.
"The driver told one more bad joke. Finally, Big John shouted, "OK, guys ... get on the brother!"
"The whole bus just broke up.
Meet the Author
Fulks attended Lipscomb University in Nashville, where he served as a play-by-play announcer for baseball and basketball games.
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It was so cool reading about experiences with the Royals from someone who has been with them since day 1! Every baseball fan will love this book. If you are a Royals fan then you HAVE TO read this book. You will be missing out if you don't. I hope the Royals continue to have great memorable times with Denny Matthews. GO Royals!